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Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Ex-aide to US secretary of state speaks to House impeachment probe on Trump

Reuters , Wednesday 16 Oct 2019
Michael McKinley
Michael McKinley, right, the top aide to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, arrives for a joint interview with the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and House Committee on Oversight and Reform on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019. (Photo: AP)
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A former adviser to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who abruptly resigned last week, on Wednesday spoke to an impeachment inquiry into allegations President Donald Trump pursued political interests in his dealings with Ukraine.

The latest senior administration to give closed-door testimony to the Democratic-led inquiry testified as Republicans in Congress stepped up their attacks on a process that the White House has vowed to stonewall.

Former Pompeo adviser Michael McKinley entered a secure area in the U.S. Capitol to face questions from investigators who could recommend Trump's impeachment to the House of Representatives before the end of the year.

Lawmakers are examining whether Trump improperly pressured Ukraine to launch an investigation of Democratic former Vice President Joe Biden, a top political rival and a leading candidate for the Democratic 2020 presidential nomination.

McKinley, a veteran diplomat who had served as ambassador to Brazil and Afghanistan, was expected to tell investigators that some career diplomats had their careers derailed for political reasons while he served as adviser to Pompeo from May 2018 until last Friday, according to a report in the Washington Post.

The newspaper said he resigned over State Department leadership's unwillingness to defend former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch against an effort to intervene in the country for Trump's political benefit. Yovanovitch, who was withdrawn earlier this year, told investigators last week that the president ousted her on "unfounded and false claims."

Previous witnesses have described how policy staff were sidelined on Ukraine by Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and others.

"We've uncovered significant evidence of Trump's abuse of power. And we'll continue to expose the truth," House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who is leading the impeachment inquiry, said on Twitter on Wednesday.

Trump, in a series of early morning tweets, reiterated attacks on Schiff and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He blasted the "impeachment witch hunt" for not giving Republicans more of a role in the process, which he again an unconstitutional attempt to oust him from the White House.

REPUBLICAN BLASTS 'CLOSED SYSTEM'

House Republicans also ramped up their attacks on Democrats, complaining that they were being denied access to transcripts of witness interviews and saying they would introduce a censure resolution against Schiff.

"This is a closed system. This is a system designed to already find an outcome," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said of the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry.

House Democrats on Tuesday said Schiff will at some point move the impeachment inquiry into a public hearing phase

A House vote to impeach Trump would lead to a trial in the Republican-controlled Senate that could result in his ouster. But so far, few Senate Republicans have voiced criticism of the president.

The House's probe is focused on a July 25 phone call in which Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate unsubstantiated allegations against Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, who was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.

Democrats accuse Trump of pressuring Ukraine to dig up dirt on a domestic rival after withholding $391 million in U.S. security aid intended to help combat Russian-backed separatists. Zelenskiy agreed to investigate. Trump eventually allowed the aid.

Trump has denied wrongdoing and defended his request to Zelenskiy. Biden and his son also deny wrongdoing.

Pompeo, a close ally of Trump, has directed State Department employees not to cooperate with the inquiry, but with only limited success.

Career diplomat George Kent testified on Tuesday. Congressional investigators also heard on Monday from Trump's former Russia adviser, Fiona Hill, who was senior director for European and Russian affairs on the National Security Council.

Gordon Sondland, a Trump political donor and a key actor in the unfolding political drama as U.S. ambassador to the European Union, is expected to appear later this week in response to a subpoena after he initially declined to testify.

Kurt Volker, who served as Trump's special envoy to Ukraine, made a surprise appearance on Wednesday. Reuters could not immediately confirm why Volker, who testified on Oct. 3, was on Capitol Hill.

Other members of the Trump administration have remained defiant, as has Giuliani. Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday both refused to comply with subpoenas requesting documents related to the efforts to pressure Ukraine. The Pentagon also said it could not to share documents with lawmakers, citing "legal and practical concerns." The White House budget office also faced a Tuesday deadline to respond.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry declined to say in a Fox Business Network interview whether he would comply with a subpoena for documents.

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